Friday, February 20, 2009

Context Is All

My friend Katie Green, an independent film director, on why Ari Folman’s film should not win an Academy Award: Please, No Oscar for “Waltz With Bashir.”

The film is by any standards a magnificent piece of art. If Ari Folman had climbed into a time machine, gone back 20 years, and taken a professional cameraman with him into the Lebanon war, he could not have come back with more emotive and meaningful material than what he has recalled from memory and projected onto the screen. And his film is a work of great emotional depth and sensitivity. For the purposes of internal national debate, this is a film that every Israeli should see.
However, a glaring omission is immediately apparent at the film's beginning, which intensifies as it progresses: no reason, rhyme or context is given for the war. No enemy is depicted to speak of. Although the faces of Israeli friends, soldiers, therapists and politicians are lovingly illustrated in close-up all the way through the film, the enemy being engaged has no name and no face. Only once in the film is a teenage boy with an RPG on his back, brought into focus, and it is not clear who he belongs to, or what he is fighting for.
The eerie backdrop against which the film plays out is that the enemy hardly exists at all, or that he is a figment of the Israeli imagination. Soldiers are cut to pieces by sniper fire, but who are the snipers? Gunmen shoot down from balconies and roofs, but which army or political faction do they represent? Palestinian terrorists are sought in streets, orchards and refugee camps but why are they relevant to Israel, if they are operating in Lebanon? A viewer who knows nothing of the background to this conflict could be forgiven for believing that thousands of Israeli soldiers simply woke up one morning and decided to go to Lebanon to kill people.

Read the whole thing.

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